Alterations of consciousness in psychogenic nonepileptic seizures: Emotion, emotion regulation and dissociation

School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arizona State University, Glendale, AZ, USA. Electronic address: .
Epilepsy & Behavior (Impact Factor: 2.26). 11/2013; 30. DOI: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2013.09.035
Source: PubMed


Impairment of consciousness and reduced self-control are key features of most psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNESs), although, compared with patients with epilepsy, those with PNESs demonstrate greater conscious awareness during their seizures. The neurobiological underpinnings of PNESs and of alterations of awareness associated with PNESs remain relatively unknown. We suggest that an understanding of conscious experiences and discrepancies between subjective impairment of consciousness and the lack of objectifiable neurobiological changes in PNESs may benefit from an examination of emotion processing, including understanding sensory, situational, and emotional triggers of PNESs; emotional and physiological changes during the attacks; and styles of emotional reactivity and regulatory capacity. We also suggest that in addition to the typical comparisons between patients with PNESs and those with epilepsy, studies of PNESs would benefit from the inclusion of comparison groups such as those with PTSD, dissociation, and other forms of psychopathology where dissociative and emotion regulatory mechanisms have been explored more fully. We conclude that current evidence and theory suggest that impairment of consciousness in PNESs is only "dissociative" in one subgroup of these seizures, when consciousness is suppressed as a collateral effect of the excessive inhibition of emotion processing. We propose that PNES behaviors and experiences of reduced control or awareness may also represent direct behavioral manifestation of overwhelming emotions, or that minor emotional fluctuations or relatively neutral stimuli may trigger PNESs through conditioning or other preconscious processes. Future studies exploring the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning PNESs are likely to be more fruitful if researchers bear in mind that it is unlikely that all PNESs result from the same processes in the brain. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Epilepsy and Consciousness.

Download full-text


Available from: Markus Reuber, Jun 19, 2014
  • Source
    • "Experiential avoidance is not merely the avoidance of certain situations but rather the avoidance of one's own thoughts, sensations, and emotions , particularly anxiety-provoking ones [14]. Such avoidance can be voluntary or involuntary, with the involuntary aspect arguably most likely to precipitate clinical syndromes such as PNESs [15]. Anxiety itself is a complex physiological and behavioral experience with both 'explicit' and 'implicit' cognitive components [16] [17]. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: This study examined implicit and explicit anxiety in individuals with epilepsy and psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNESs) and explored whether these constructs were related to experiential avoidance and seizure frequency. Based on recent psychological models of PNESs, it was hypothesized that nonepileptic seizures would be associated with implicit and explicit anxiety and experiential avoidance. Explicit anxiety was measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; implicit anxiety was measured by an Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure; and experiential avoidance was measured with the Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire. Although both groups with epilepsy and PNESs scored similarly on implicit measures of anxiety, significant implicit–explicit anxiety discrepancies were only identified in patients with PNESs (p < .001). In the group with PNESs (but not in the group with epilepsy), explicit anxiety correlated with experiential avoidance (r = .63, p < .01) and frequency of seizures (r = .67, p < .01); implicit anxiety correlated with frequency of seizures only (r = .56, p < .01). Our findings demonstrate the role of implicit anxiety in PNESs and provide additional support for the contribution of explicit anxiety and experiential avoidance to this disorder.
    Epilepsy & Behavior 04/2014; 33:77–86. DOI:10.1016/j.yebeh.2014.02.016 · 2.26 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Patients with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) often report symptoms of dissociation. However, it is unclear how these symptoms relate to psychotherapeutic treatment, for example, with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Here, we investigated the degree of overlap between symptoms of dissociation and other psychiatric features that are more traditional targets for CBT. We used a hierarchical linear regression to measure the variance associated with dissociative symptoms (as assessed by the Dissociative Experiences Scale - DES) among 46 individuals with PNESs. The regression predictor variables are indices of participants' self-rated mood, self-efficacy, quality of life, locus of control, and life outlook (e.g., optimism). Results revealed that 70.2% of the variance associated with DES score was explained by psychological distress and locus of control. The other factors examined did not make a significant contribution to the regression model. These results suggest that traditional CBT targets - mood symptoms, mood distress, and dysfunctional beliefs about locus of control - overlap substantially with self-reported dissociative symptoms.
    Epilepsy & Behavior 03/2014; 34C:47-49. DOI:10.1016/j.yebeh.2014.03.001 · 2.26 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The pathophysiology of psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES) is poorly understood. Functional neuroimaging data in various functional neurological disorders increasingly support specific neurobiological dysfunction. However, to date, no studies have been reported of positron emission tomography (PET) in patients presenting with PNES. Sixteen patients being evaluated in a specialist epilepsy centre underwent PET with 2-deoxy-2-[fluorine-18]fluoro-d-glucose ((18)FDG-PET) because of suspected intractable epileptic seizures. However, in all patients, the diagnosis was subsequently confirmed to be PNES with no coexisting epilepsy. (18)FDG-PET was also performed in 16 healthy controls. A voxel by voxel intergroup analysis was performed to look for significant differences in interictal (resting state) cerebral metabolism. In addition, metabolic connectivity was studied using voxel-wise inter-regional correlation analysis. In comparison to group analysis of healthy participants, the group analysis of patients with PNES exhibited significant PET hypometabolism within the right inferior parietal and central region, and within the bilateral anterior cingulate cortex. A significant increase in metabolic correlation was found in patients with PNES, in comparison to healthy participants, between the right inferior parietal/central region and the bilateral cerebellum, and between the bilateral anterior cingulate cortex and the left parahippocampal gyrus. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study describing FDG-PET alterations in patients with PNES. Although we cannot exclude that our data reflect changes due to comorbidities, they may indicate a dysfunction of neural systems in patients with PNES. Hypometabolism regions might relate to two of the pathophysiological mechanisms that may be involved in PNES, that is, emotional dysregulation (anterior cingulate hypometabolism) and dysfunctional processes underlying the consciousness of the self and the environment (right parietal hypometabolism). NCT00484523. Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to
    Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 12/2014; 86(9). DOI:10.1136/jnnp-2014-309390 · 6.81 Impact Factor
Show more